By Matt Rowson
I feel a little peculiar.
I'm not sure what it is. It's not an unpleasant thing; there's no nausea, no headache. It's just...strange. I'm sure I remember feeling like this before, it's not entirely new. It's like a sensation you remember from your childhood, maybe a sound, maybe a sight...or the smell of my Dad's Marlboro cigarettes as I stood next to him on an upturned bucket in the north-west corner of the Vicarage Road terrace. Something that will never leave me, but that I must have sort of forgotten. Oh, what IS it...?
West Ham. Never dull, that's for sure. One minute the darlings of the nation... a young, tremendously exciting squad peppered with just the right number of wily old pros. The next, an atrocious shambles conceding eight goals over two consecutive games. At home. And to put this into perspective, even we haven't managed to lose 4-0 at home, especially not to Everton.
There it is again, that feeling. Come on, come on. No. Gone again.
West Ham have been erratic for a while, of course. Even last season's creditable fifth-place finish was not achieved without spectacular capitulations along the way. Critical differences this season, however, are betrayed by the unanimous backlash against last Saturday's disaster.
Depleted the Hammers may have been, missing the suspended Lampard, the Gold Cup winning Forrest and the injured Di Canio and Hislop, but even their considerable absence is seen as scant justification for such an abysmal showing. Sasa Ilic, who had only arrived at Upton Park the previous Thursday, flapped embarrassingly in the home goal but cannot be held solely responsible. The murmurs of discontent were rumbling well before Everton. West Ham are a precarious eleventh, not fifth.
Redknapp appears, for possibly the first time in his Upton Park managerial career, to be facing some serious flak. Whilst establishing West Ham in the Premiership has been a considerable achievement, it's difficult not to have some sympathy with his current critics, one of whom accuses him of having "the tactical nous of a fish." Which probably isn't intended as a compliment.
Certainly the Hammers' forward line, a popular cause for concern, appears to lack a little depth in the absence of hamstring victim maverick Di Canio. Paulo Wanchope and Paul Kitson do not comprise the most devastating of Premiership forward lines on the best of days, much less when the former in particular is a long-term target for the Upton Park boo-boys. With Ian Wright now at Burnley, the disgraced Manny Omoyimni on loan again and Samassi Abou released to head for Scotland, the striking options look sparse indeed, a failing laid firmly at the manager's door.
In midfield, Joe Cole will be a strong character indeed if he manages to grow into the world-beater that the hype was proclaiming him to be before he'd even made the Hammers' team. He certainly has ability, and won plaudits for his England U21 showing last week, but he was anonymous and lightweight against Everton, the latter a failing that Watford's midfield is unlikely to let him off with at the moment.
At the back, the one man to come out of Saturday with much credit was the extraordinary Stuart Pearce, making a comeback from a broken leg sustained against the Hornets in September. However, despite Psycho, and despite filling his bench with largely defensive players, Redknapp was unable to stem Everton's tide.
Forrest and Lampard at least will return this weekend, and there is obviously a possibility that the Hornets will have to face a backlash. But it's going to be a very different picture if we get an early goal. The heads of nervous young sides tend to drop in such circumstances, we know all about that.
And I've remembered, by the way. I've remembered what that sensation was, I know what reminded me of it and I know where I felt it before. Chelsea, for those that missed it, was bloody magnificent. I don't give a damn what the final score was, it was magnificent. And suddenly I'm finding that insane pride reawakening in me, the pride that absolutely suffocated us for the last two months of last season. And I've stoked that pride (and how) by going back and reading this...and this...and this.
It couldn't happen again though, not the whole shebang. It's too far-gone, too much has gone against us, and the quality just hasn't quite been there.
But I can't get Allan Smart, crying at Wembley, out of my head. And I can't help remembering thinking similarly resigned thoughts after that numbing draw with Bury.
At the end of March.